“What the hell was that??”
It wasn’t so much an explanation as it was an utterance of confusion at what I had just witnessed as the end credits for Disney’s THE LONE RANGER began scrolling across the screen. Seriously… what was that mess of a movie that never had any idea of what it wanted to be? Was it seeking to be a comedy? A serious drama? An action flick? A Western? I hope you’re not looking to me for answers, because THE LONE RANGER takes short amounts of time trying on each one blindly in the hopes of finding a good fit, and, by the time it ends, still hasn’t found a clear identity. Think of THE LONE RANGER as a trip to the mall, where you yanked a number of different styles off the store racks and popped into the dressing room to try all the clothes on. When you emerged, you decided to wear a little bit of this and a little bit of that, even though none of it was ever really meant to work together… and then as you walked back to your car, you couldn’t understand why people were gazing at you for looking like a total mess. That’s about the best way I can describe THE LONE RANGER – tonally it’s a mess with a few nice pieces that catch your eye along the way, but, for the most part, none of it goes together.
To try breaking down the story of THE LONE RANGER would be futile, because it’s beyond nonsensical. No, seriously… this film has more extraneous parts than a PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequel, which must have been a challenge for screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (and Justin Haythe) who penned those Captain Jack Sparrow movies. You’d think someone threw down the gauntlet on them to create a movie even more confusing and bloated than those pictures, and they took on the challenge with great enthusiasm. THE LONE RANGER feels like a story written by someone with ADHD clearly off their medication, because it tries to do so much and is all over the place, incapable of every focusing on one storyline or one character or one of anything. Is it about the origin of the Lone Ranger? Kind of. Is it based around Tonto? Sort of. However, neither ever really to seem to get the attention they need for THE LONE RANGER to not feel so disjointed. There are long stretches where the Ranger seems to disappear, and Tonto is the focus, and likewise, there are lengthy bouts where Tonto is nowhere to be seen, and it’s all Ranger. But due to the film’s jagged pacing, you never develop any reason to care about either thread of the film. It’s so scattered in trying to get to the next thing that it never spent enough time giving me anything about the Ranger or Tonto that encouraged to take an interest in their actions, their motivations or their feelings. It spends all sorts of time on everything else that it seems to breeze through Tonto and the Lone Ranger as if I’m expected to gravitate to them automatically for the simple fact that the movie is called THE LONE RANGER, and one of them is in the title and the other is his sidekick and… Hello!! That should be enough for you.
However, with the bizarre framing device of a living Tonto being a part of a Wild West exhibit on a fair midway and telling a story to a young boy in Lone Ranger gear, THE LONE RANGER takes about 10 minutes to even get into trying to ramp up the story, and then isn’t able to ever get out of first gear, wandering from scene to scene, trying to gather sympathy for John Reid, played by Armie Hammer, the reluctant wimp who believes the only type of justice to be doled out comes from courtrooms. He doesn’t believe in guns, and is a bit of the naive side when dealing with the criminal element. After all, they are criminals for a reason, so expecting them to follow rules and laws when stated by a lawyer is a bit on the idiotic side. Through some circumstances of crossing paths with the same bad guy – the heart-eating Butch Cavendish (yes, you read that correctly… a heart is consumed in a Disney flick) – Reid becomes partners with Tonto (Johnny Depp), a Native American trying to squash his own past demons. There’s some business about Spirit Walkers and railroads and power conspiracies and… well, I could go on for about the length of THE LONE RANGER listing them, but since that feels like forever, I’ll spare you the pain I went through.
Look… one can’t question the production values of THE LONE RANGER. As usual, director Gore Verbinski has put together a film that’s nice to look at visually. For the enormous budget they were blessed with to make THE LONE RANGER, they absolutely spent every single cent they had available to them and it shows up on the screen. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t carry any sort of weight for anything that happens in it. Yeah, it looks cool quite often, but nothing ever seems to matter. When people die, we’re supposed to care deeply, even if we’ve just been introduced to them three minutes earlier, rendering their elimination from the remainder of the story meaningless. In fact, if it invokes anything, it’s jealousy, because it means they don’t have to stick around any longer as THE LONE RANGER unfolds even further while I do. And what makes THE LONE RANGER’s problems even more glaring is that the film is incredibly dull. There’s no sense of fun or excitement emanate from any part of this flick until you get to this massive action sequence for THE LONE RANGER’s finale… but, by then, who cares? 30 minutes of explosions and fistfights and train chases doesn’t make up for the previous two hours of blah.
There’s sparks here and there from watching the Ranger and Tonto interact as this odd couple of sorts out in the middle of nowhere, but the depiction of the Ranger as a whiner is far too grating for the character to gain any sort of traction as a hero I have any desire to root for. As a result, Tonto, as understated as Depp plays him so as not to risk offending everyone with Native American heritage, winds up failing, too, because, in a partnership such as this, he’s only as good as the Ranger… and they’ve made this one a sniveling baby. Ruth Wilson plays a love interest of sorts for what seems to be every male of any significance in the movie, and really serves no purpose in the film other than to give it a reason to keep getting longer. She’s shuffled about from person to person in order to have someone in peril that might prompt the Ranger and Tonto into action, but once again, there’s just so much THE LONE RANGER is trying to squeeze into one movie, none of it registers on any level more than a stream of fleeting moments.
THE LONE RANGER is just a bad movie, a classic misfire of a well-known property that has no idea what it wants to do with the history its inherited. Does it want to stay classic? Does it want to try to do something fresh? I still have no idea, nor do I have any clue whatsoever what type of movie this wanted to be. It really is all over the place, and aside from Gore Verbinski at least being able to put something on the screen that isn’t ugly, THE LONE RANGER is a mess of epic proportions.